When Grandpa Was A Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

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Makeover For Timmie

1962: Timmie Jean Lindsey became the first woman to have sacs of silicone gel implanted in her breasts. The 29-year-old Texan happened to visit a hospital in Houston at the same time that cosmetic surgeons were recruiting young women to try out the new implants. “I was okay with what I had,” Lindsey later recalled, although she admitted, “After six children I guess they were kind of saggy.” The cosmetic surgeons tried to convince her that a perkier bosom would boost her confidence, but she already had plenty of confidence. What she really wanted, Lindsey said, was to have her ears pinned back. In the end, the surgeons persuaded her to have the implants. “Yeah, we’ll fix your ears too,” they promised.

Source: Florence Williams, Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History (2012), pp. 66–9

Irascible Exit

1961: The playwright John Mortimer portrayed his father as a formidable figure in the law courts, a barrister who continued work even after he suddenly went blind. He was a man with a volcanic temper, who delighted in argument, yet he laughed a lot, particularly at his own jokes, “until the tears ran from his sightless eyes”. He was very clean and always bathed twice a day. On the night he died, he was his usual irascible self, protesting noisily about not being allowed out of bed for a bath. When he was told not to get angry, he retorted: “I’m always angry when I’m dying.”

Source: John Mortimer, A Voyage Round My Father, ed. Mark Pattenden (1990), pp. vii–ix, 78–9

Poetic Remedy

Boris Pasternak, photographed in 1928

1960: The Soviet poet and novelist Boris Pasternak died at the age of 70. His fellow poet Osip Mandelstam once suggested that reading Pasternak’s poetry cleared the throat, reinforced the breathing and renewed the lungs. “Such verses,” Mandelstam added, “must be a cure for tuberculosis.”

Source: Osip Mandelstam, Osip Mandelstam: Selected Essays (1977), p. 83

Cider With Daisy

1959: Cider with Daisy? Cider with Poppy? Cider with Rosie? Laurie Lee considered a number of titles for his autobiographical account of growing up in a Gloucestershire village. Eventually he settled on Cider with Rosie, although the alternative titles suggest that young Laurie larked around with other village girls when Rosie’s back was turned.

Source: The Times, 16 May 2003

Yudenow’s English

1958: Much of the humour in Gerald Kersh’s comic novel Fowlers End centred on Sam Yudenow, the seedy proprietor of a seedy north London cinema. His bastardization of the English language made him a direct literary descendant of Mrs. Malaprop.

Yudenow managed to mangle most words of more than one syllabub. F’rinstance, “edvertise”, “gruggy”, “govmint subdizzy”, “nushment”, “nishertive”, “unfluential”, “soluntary”, “smomp” and “ploppitate”. Other yudenisms: “cutterbups”, “fulsuric acid”, “Simonese” cats and the London “Milharphonic” Orchestra.

Source: Gerald Kersh, Fowlers End (1958)

Chance Discovery

1957: In 2011, while refurbishing an antique bureau previously owned by Agatha Christie, furniture restorer Clive Payne came across two folded pieces of paper that had slipped down the back of the bureau. One was a telegram from the playwright Noël Coward, dated September 1957, congratulating Christie on the record-breaking 1,998th performance of her murder mystery The Mousetrap in the West End. The other was a 1952 receipt for £24 13s 6d from a certain Miss Elliott, supplier of nightwear and lingerie.

Source: Antiques Trade Gazette, 20 August 2011

Churchill Humiliated

1956: Sir Winston Churchill’s son, Randolph, appeared on the American TV show The $64,000 Question. He shouldn’t have bothered. Although he cleared the first hurdle, for $64, he came a cropper at the second. He was asked which word in the English language derived from the name of “the land agent of the Earl of Erne in County Mayo in 1880 [who] was so tyrannical that the people banded together and refused to have any social or commercial dealings with him”. Churchill raised his hand to his temple, rocked on his heels and bit his finger a couple of times, but the answer eluded him. “How humiliating,” he said, and went home with empty pockets. The word was “boycott”.

Source: Winston S. Churchill, His Father’s Son: The Life of Randolph Churchill (1996), pp. 343–5

Ignore The A Side

1955: Q: Which hit song was originally the B side to “Thirteen Women (and Only One Man in Town)”, a fantasy about a bevy of female survivors from a hydrogen bomb pampering the solitary surviving male?

A: Bill Haley and His Comets’ “Rock Around the Clock”.

Source: Derek Thompson, Hit Makers: How Things Become Popular (2018), chap. 7

Hockney’s Chippy

1954: When David Hockney studied art in Bradford, he would often visit The Sea Catch fish and chip shop near closing time to get a cheap evening meal. One of his early artworks was a lithograph of the chippy, depicting the proprietors, Hayden and Janet Smith, frying and serving, while a young man leans on the counter. Hockney made only a handful of copies, one of which he gave to the Smiths, who displayed it for several years above the fryers. In 2017, it sold at auction for £18,750.

Source: Simon Garfield, The Error World: An Affair with Stamps (2008), pp. 176–85

Stalin’s Doodles

1953: Joseph Stalin died on 5 March. The last foreign diplomat to see him alive was the Indian ambassador to the Soviet Union, K.P.S. Menon. As they talked, on the evening of 17 February, Menon noticed Stalin doodling wolves on a pad. “The peasant is a very simple man,” Stalin explained, “but a very wise man.” When a wolf attacks him, he does not try to moralize with it, he tries to kill it. The wolf knows this, so is wary of the peasant.

Source: K.P.S. Menon, The Flying Troika (1963), pp. 29, 31–2

Limited Library

1951: James Thurber asserted that Harold Ross, editor of The New Yorker, never read anything except manuscripts for the magazine. According to Thurber, Ross’s personal library consisted of three books: “One is Mark Twain’s ‘Life on the Mississippi’; the second is a book by a man named Spencer . . . and the third is a treatise on the migration of eels.”

Source: H.L. Mencken, The Diary of H.L. Mencken, ed. Charles A. Fecher (1989), p. 136

Love Letter

1949: The death of Anne, his handicapped daughter, left Charles de Gaulle with one son and one daughter. On 10 September, de Gaulle wrote to his daughter, Élisabeth, “for no particular reason, simply to say that I love you greatly” (“Pour . . . aucune raison particulière. Simplement celle de vous dire que je vous aime beaucoup . . .”).

Source: Charles de Gaulle, Lettres, Notes et Carnets: Mai 1945–Juin 1951 (1984), pp. 374–5

Electoral Anomaly

1948: The Nationalist triumph in South Africa’s general election was an anomaly. General Smuts’s United Party and allies won 50.9 per cent of the total vote; D.F. Malan’s Herenigde Nasionale Party and allies managed only 41.2 per cent. The United Party, however, squandered too many votes on thumping majorities in urban constituencies, while the Nationalists performed strongly in rural seats whose smaller electorates required fewer votes to secure victory. When parliament reconvened, Smuts controlled 71 seats, but Malan controlled 79, sufficient for the Nationalists to usher in their policy of apartheid.

Source: Kenneth A. Heard, General Elections in South Africa 1943–1970 (1974), chap. 3

Not Welcome

1947: Canada’s Chinese Immigration Act of 1923 effectively barred Chinese immigrants. Between 1924 and 1947, when the law was repealed, Canada admitted only 44 ethnic Chinese.

Source: S.W. Kung, Chinese in American Life: Some Aspects of Their History, Status, Problems, and Contributions (1962), p. 294

Dangerous Bedding

1945: “All of a sudden,” in the early hours of 25 April, “there was a fierce air raid; the flak started raging.” Too weary to go down to the basement, the author of A Woman in Berlin snuggled beneath the bedclothes. The sheets and blankets provided “an idiotic sense of security”, as if they were made of iron. “They say bedding is extremely dangerous.” A doctor who treated a woman who had been hit in bed found that “bits of feather had lodged so deeply in her wounds he could barely remove them”.

Source: Anonymous, A Woman in Berlin (2009), p. 49

Unequal Sacrifice

1943: Hugh Dalton, president of the Board of Trade, deplored the amount of fabric used in turn-ups on men’s trousers. Turn-ups were an extravagance, Dalton said, and in wartime, civilians should make do without them.

“There can be no equality of sacrifice in this war. Some must lose lives and limbs; others only the turn-ups on their trousers.”

Source: Hugh Dalton, The Fateful Years: Memoirs 1931–1945 (1957), p. 410